Faith & Values
It’s happened. I’ve become “best frienemies“ with my suitcase. Ours is definitely a love-hate relationship.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately, speaking to different groups across the country. In fact, each week of the previous month has found me in at least two different time zones. That requires a lot of packing.
I’ve been known to grimace as I haul my big, black suitcase out from under the staircase to begin yet another round of journey preparation. It’s starting to look even more travel-weary than I do after I’ve endured a bumpy, five-hour flight in a middle-row seat that won’t recline. I’ve noticed one of the suitcase’s zipper tabs is missing, and the fabric is beginning to pull away from the frame in a couple of places.
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Still, the sturdy old fella is lightweight, and I love its multidirectional “spinner“ wheels that allow me to push it, upright, with one hand. It has safely borne my necessities and put up with my “enhanced packing content“ (ahem!), uncomplaining, through all sorts of travel adventures where I’ve met many wonderful people. And as I wait at the airport’s baggage carousel, scanning the jumble of luggage riding by on the conveyor belt, seeing my old, black suitcase (with its colorful ribbon tied to the handle for easy identification) is almost like reconnecting with a friend. Ah, there you are! So good to see you again!
No matter the state of one’s suitcase, it strikes me that “near” and “far” are relative terms these days. A hundred years ago, the distance from Washington state to Washington, D.C., would have seemed far. In recent decades, commercial airlines have shrunk that distance to a matter of hours. In fact, if you have the resources and can put up with jet lag, you can get to almost any spot on the globe in a fairly short amount of time.
Still, as humans we struggle with near and far. And all distance isn’t geographical. Husbands and wives, parents and children, and even the best of friends who once were close can become distant. The dreams of what we wanted for our lives — things that seemed almost within reach if we worked hard and stood on our tiptoes — can suddenly seem galaxies away when a health crisis, a car accident or an unexpected job loss becomes our new reality. I have dear friends who are experiencing this daunting, near-far reversal right now. You probably do, too.
To be honest, even as a devoted follower of Jesus and a person whose life and profession is all about the spiritual realm, I still sometimes feel that God is far away. My prayers don’t always get the quick answers or the kind of answers I long for. I become frustrated by my own blunders and lack of growth in an area I should have mastered by now. I’m heartsick from tragic news stories of school shootings and trafficked women and hungry children.
It’s reassuring to know that even Bible writers sometimes felt this way. Psalm 10:1 (New International Version [NIV]) says, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” But a few verses later (v. 14), the psalmist acknowledges that though God seems distant, he isn’t: “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”
And often, when it comes to matters of faith, we are the ones who have wandered away. In the story of the prodigal, Jesus tells about the young man heading to a “far country“ (Luke 15:13) where he began to waste his resources and his life. Yet God’s love follows us even into our own versions of the “far country.” In Psalm 139, David writes about not being able to get away from God’s presence, whether in the highest heights or the deepest depths. Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NIV) says, “ ‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away?’ ”
It’s like this: When I’m on one of those big jets coming in for a landing, I often look out my little window and see only a white mist, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. As we continue our descent through the thick clouds, it’s easy to wonder if that lighted runway is really there, or have we missed it? Then at almost the last minute, we drop through the fog and touch down. A safe landing wasn’t that far away, even though, from my perspective, it was nowhere to be found.
Distance can be closed. Conflicted families and friendships can be repaired. Dreams can be renewed. Faith can be restored when we turn to the One who is looking for us. And “far” may not be so far off, after all, because God is nearer than we realize. That’s a hope I want to pack with me wherever I go, near or far.
Jodi Detrick is a minister with the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God). She is also a public speaker, an author and a life coach. Readers may send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.